Establishing a mobile presence is essential for the success of any business. However, to do so, one of the first decisions to make is whether you want to build a mobile app, a mobile website, or perhaps both.
Imagine owning a business today and not having some type of IT-based product that helps you stomp the online ground. Or try to think if any modern enterprise has a relevant market presence but doesn’t have a website, app, or both. Find any? You probably didn’t, and that’s because, today, having an online presence is almost as necessary as having a valid business operating license. In fact, did you know that about 80% of people go online to search for a company before visiting it or making a purchase? Or that around 71% of small businesses worldwide already have a website? Or even more incredible, did you know there are currently almost 2 billion active websites in the world? These mouth-opening figures highlight the importance of having an online presence for any modern business, whether big or small. So the question is, how do you establish your business’s online presence? Where do you start? Do you build a mobile app? A mobile website? Both?
A lot of how you enter the online world depends on your company and your particular situation. Still, one of the first considerations is whether you’ll need a mobile application, a mobile website, or maybe even both. First, it’s crucial to understand the differences between the two—the user experience, their costs, and how they are developed differ significantly. Second, determining which suits you better depends on several factors, such as your product’s characteristics, target audience, budget, goals, and market, which you need to assess to make an informed decision.
So, if you’re considering entering the online game but don’t know if you should start with a mobile app or a mobile website, fret not; we’re here to help. Of course, we’d all have both in a perfect world without budgets or deadlines. But, since chances are you need to stick to a budget (no, they don’t cost the same) and a time-to-market, we want to highlight precisely what is the difference between a mobile and a web app and help you decide which one suits you better or if you should splurge and choose both. Let’s see.
What is a mobile app?
We use them all the time. From enabling online shopping and learning to help us access medical services and banking, they’ve become pervasive and necessary to our day-to-day activities. We know how to download them, use them, and enjoy them. But what exactly are they? Simply put, mobile apps are software-based programs designed to run on smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices, hence their name. In that sense, a mobile app needs to be downloaded from a platform-specific app store and stored locally on a user’s device for it to work and run properly. Furthermore, mobile apps use their home device’s native hardware and software features, such as the GPS, to deliver a better and faster user experience than you would find on a website or web application. Likewise, mobile apps can either pull data from the internet, or download the content, store it using the device’s memory capacity, and enable access to it without an internet connection.
Modern mobile applications are developed with portability and scalability at the forefront, which is crucial to support the user experience since the diversity in device type, screen sizes, capacity, and resolutions grows exponentially, and the application must run smoothly in all of them. Similarly, since there are also different operating systems with different structures and requirements, modern app developers must master both mobile app development approaches:
Cross-platform app development: Cross-platform apps are those that work on several operating systems. The fact that you can deploy these types of apps on both Android and iOS can save time and costs, but you sacrifice quality and performance.
Native app development: Native apps are those built to work on a single mobile operating system. In other words, you can’t install a native iOS app on an Android smartphone, and vice versa. It sounds counterproductive; after all, why wouldn’t you go with cross-platform development and get the best of both worlds? The thing with native apps is that they have higher performance, are faster, and deliver an excellent user experience. Hence they’re more expensive.
Mobile apps represent a gold mine for modern businesses and are the gateway to benefits such as increased ROI (Return on Investment), better user engagement, and improved customer satisfaction. Actually, in 2021, customers spent over $170 billion in app stores with 250 million app downloads and an estimated $950 billion total in revenue by 2023.
These statistics reflect the ubiquity of mobile apps in our lives and their importance for establishing a profitable online presence. However, whether you should invest in these little pieces of technology for your business depends on your particular case and your specific needs. We’ll get to that in a minute. But, first, let’s take a look at what mobile apps can bring to your business.
Mobile app pros
Mobile apps are an excellent solution for giving your users a tailored experience. From a business point of view, offering personalized mobile experiences is crucial for building robust marketing campaigns and targeted communications. In that sense, when appropriately developed, mobile apps are a failsafe for business success because they allow users to customize the app to meet their needs. They can create their personal accounts, set their preferences, choose their own patterns, colors, and visuals, and keep essential information at hand while discarding what’s useless to them. Moreover, mobile apps can also help you track user engagement and gather feedback, allowing you to identify issues and pain points. You can use this information to offer customized support and recommendations and implement timely updates to improve the user experience and provide a unique in-app journey
One of all mobile apps’ most exceptional advantages is that, although most require an internet connection for some tasks, you can typically use them even when you are offline. As mobile apps are downloaded and installed on a user’s mobile device, they can keep offering access to most content and functionality even in offline mode. As a result, your users will have access to their in-app information anywhere, anytime.
Since mobile apps live on a user’s mobile device, they store their data locally. As a result, all information is always at hand, and they can retrieve it in the blink of an eye. Actually, efficient and robust mobile apps are usually more than 1.5 times faster than most mobile websites, allowing users to perform in-app actions with no lag and access data instantly. This benefit is critical, especially nowadays, when customers demand fast services and instant access to quality content. As a matter of fact, 70% of mobile app users will uninstall an app if it takes too long to load. So, even the slightest lag can give your customers considerable grief and create massive discontent among your user base.
Mobile apps give your brand permanent landholding in your users’ devices. It lives inside their mobile phones as a permanent reminder of your company, and even when they are not actively using your mobile app, they still see your brand in the app’s icon, acting as a sort of free ad for your company. Furthermore, mobile apps are flexible enough to enable you to design them according to your brand’s look and feel. As a result, your mobile app can support your brand’s image and act as an exclusive and personalized brand ambassador for your company. This way, mobile apps provide unlimited and multidimensional engagement possibilities that range from hyper-targeted marketing and unique communication channels to personalized means for brand recognition, all in a small piece of technology inside your users’ phones.
Mobile app cons
Naturally, nothing is perfect, and mobile apps, despite our love for them and their myriad benefits, have some trade-offs to consider before you make your decision. Here are the main ones.
With developing a mobile app comes, sometimes, an unavoidably hefty price tag. Sure, the cost often depends on the mobile app’s functionality and requirements, among other items, but usually, robust mobile products don’t come cheap. Depending on their size and complexity, they range from $30,000 up to $300,000 or even more, which undoubtedly represents a significant dent in any company’s budget.
Developing a mobile isn’t just about delivering your product; taking it to app stores and supporting it after deployment is an essential step that takes time and money. In addition, to ensure your mobile app performs optimally, your app development partner must provide updates, quality assurance, and upgrades to address any compatibility or performance issues that may arise. Not only that, but app stores demand these updates be done regularly, which is actually a good thing but can be a hassle in some cases due to time and monetary constraints.
Since chances are your mobile app will work on different devices, your developer needs to ensure it is compatible with the different operating systems on the market. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very straightforward process because each system–iOS, Android, and Windows–needs a separate app version to function correctly. Of course, you can always choose to develop a native app that leverages the features inherent to a particular platform and operating system. As a result, you’ll get a product that runs better, has higher performance, and boasts more complex functionalities but won’t work for a different platform and will cost you more. Alternatively, if you want your app to be compatible with every operating system and device, then you need a cross-platform solution. Cross-platform apps are less expensive but fall short on some features and may not support every component of each operating system.
What are mobile websites?
You’re probably thinking, “well, I know what a website is; who doesn’t?” Yes, you’re right, but mobile websites aren’t quite the same as regular websites. Similarly to a standard website, mobile websites are HTML-based and can be accessed over the internet via your smartphone’s web browser. However, the evident discrepancy that distinguishes a mobile website from a regular one is its architecture. Mobile websites are designed and optimized for the obviously smaller displays and resolutions of mobile devices, as well as their touch screen interfaces and connectivity changes. Ideally, like any website, a mobile website is responsive enough to change its design patterns to adapt the site’s text content, images, video, and other data to the device’s size and resolution characteristics. Furthermore, they allow access to mobile device-specific features such as GPS or phone calls and enable the user to seamlessly carry out the same desktop-like activities they would on a standard website.
It’s becoming increasingly common for developers to build mobile-friendly responsive websites with features that scale to function correctly on smaller devices. For this purpose, developers can:
Build a mobile-responsive website: Your development partner can build a full-sized desktop-based website and program it to responsively scale down all its elements to fit the smaller screen sizes or mobile devices. Depending on your needs and your product’s requirements, building a mobile-responsive website can be enough to give your users a seamless mobile-friendly experience. However, if you want your website to look like an app, you’re probably better off with a mobile-adaptive website.
Build a mobile-adaptive website: Your development partner can build a website that is created with the sole purpose of adapting to mobile devices. Mobile-adaptive websites are a good option for delivering a particular user experience and can give an app-like look without having to actually build a mobile app. Users still access mobile-adaptive websites via their device’s web browser.
Mobile devices are gaining traction and are trumping desktop use, with almost 60% of users preferring their tiny handheld gadgets over their cumbersome traditional computers. Furthermore, studies show that nearly 53% of internet visits come from mobile devices, and 61% of survey respondents claim they’d be more likely to purchase a product from a mobile-friendly website.
But what are the pros and cons of mobile websites? Let’s find out.
Mobile website pros
Unlike mobile apps, mobile websites run on your smartphone’s web browser, meaning they don’t depend on a device’s operating system. As a result, when appropriately designed, mobile websites are fully compatible with all devices and enhance the user experience across all of them without developing separate versions for each platform. A mobile website developed with responsive design will work for different screen sizes and resolutions and deliver a seamless navigation experience every time.
Since mobile websites are fully responsive, the same codebase works across all devices. As a result, their development takes considerably less time and costs a lot less than developing multiple mobile applications for all operating systems or even building a single cross-platform app.
Reach and SEO
Mobile websites can easily show up in search engines, meaning that, with just a quick Google search, your current and potential users will easily land on your mobile website, where they can get acquainted with your brand. This way, you’ll get a constant flux of users to your mobile website, and you’ll reach a broader audience than with a mobile app which, unless your users download and use it frequently, won’t give you as much traffic. In fact, mobile-optimized sites rank higher in search engine results, increasing your site’s scope capabilities. Plus, users can easily share your mobile website with their friends, helping improve your company’s awareness and reach.
Since they only have a single source code, mobile websites require significantly less maintenance effort than mobile apps. In that sense, updating and keeping a mobile website running smoothly takes considerably less time and money. In addition, it happens almost instantly because updates are available to users as soon as developers upload them. In contrast, mobile app updates need to be implemented and approved by app stores before letting the user know a newer version of the product is available.
Mobile website cons
You guessed it. Mobile websites aren’t flawless. Here are the main drawbacks of choosing mobile websites for your business.
Not available offline
Unlike most mobile apps, mobile websites won’t work without an internet connection. Even the most basic, most straightforward mobile website will require a network connection to function. Even when connectivity alternatives are all around us, delivering a good user experience can be cumbersome.
Mobile websites don’t leave a lot of room for personalization. For one, mobile websites must be uniform, meaning they should look the same on every device for every user and under every circumstance. So, typically, if a user wants to change the site’s colors, look, or layout, they can’t. Second, most mobile websites can’t access device capabilities such as cameras, voice assistants, or notification settings, creating technical limitations that may hinder the user experience. Lastly, some elements, such as animations or high-quality graphics, may not load properly or take longer, creating a pain point that would not exist in a mobile app.
The relevance of mobile websites and mobile apps for modern businesses is pretty evident: users now value their mobile devices more than ever. They are increasingly choosing them over their desktop computers to access the internet. Hence, you must consider what your user can do with them and how mobile devices are paramount for entering the online world and boosting your brand’s presence in the cyber universe.
But the questions remain, should you invest in a mobile app? Would a mobile website be better for you? Or how about both? Now that you know what both are and understand their pros and cons let’s dig into which option may be better for you.
When to choose a mobile app?
Nowadays, mobile apps seem necessary for most companies regardless of their situation. However, choosing them depends on your specific business needs, and there are scenarios where building a mobile application works best. Here are some of them.
Access to device capabilities: If you need a product that allows your users in-app access to their native device’s capabilities, such as push notifications, camera, GPS, or voice assistant, then mobile apps are your go-to.
Social media: When you need a product for a social media network, where users will need constant access to music, images, videos, or messaging capabilities, mobile apps are the way to go.
Gaming: Users typically enjoy games much more when they can download them and have them on their phones. It obviously depends on the size and characteristics of the game, but most of them do better as mobile applications.
Healthcare and banking: Usually, for healthcare and banking companies, mobile apps are much more helpful since they not only improve the user experience by allowing users to customize their products, but it enables easy appointment scheduling, faster transactions, and instant messaging capabilities.
Offline access: If you want to give your users a product that allows them content access whenever, wherever, regardless of their connectivity status, then mobile apps are the better choice.
When to choose a mobile website?
Even when mobile apps seem to be the better choice, there are some scenarios where mobile websites work best. Here are the main ones.
Limited budget: If you can’t splurge on building a mobile application that works seamlessly across all devices, mobile websites are a great choice to allow users access to your content from any device without a costly investment.
You already have a website: When you already have a desktop website, developing a mobile website becomes more accessible. You can offer your usual content in a mobile-friendly way without having to develop an entirely separate app.
Search engines: If having your users find you instantly via a browser across all devices, then a mobile website is the way to go. Mobile apps require users to download them, which can be a hurdle between your engagement strategy and conversion.
You can also consider developing both a mobile website and an app to further enhance your users’ engagement with your brand. For example, you could direct them to your mobile website experience first and use your mobile app as a secondary step where your users can complete actions they wouldn’t be able to complete on your website. For instance, if you own a marketplace, you could benefit from showing up on search engines and, from there, directing user traffic to your website. However, once your users get there and are familiar with the shopping experience, you could offer your mobile app to help them set up their accounts and complete their purchases in a faster, more user-friendly way.
Of course, the success of whichever option you choose depends entirely on properly assessing your particular situation and making an informed decision based on your budget, your users’ needs, and your product’s requirements. So make sure to conduct your research and choose a development partner that can help you build the best product for you.
Today, we won’t resolve the “mobile app vs. mobile website” controversy. It will remain a largely discussed topic for developers and business owners for a long time. Nonetheless, we believe that making the right choice will become easier as you learn to identify your opportunities, flaws, and needs and match them with the right product. Either way, it’s important to remember that making the right decision isn’t really about choosing one or the other. It is more about having the tools and information at hand so you can find the solution that will deliver the most value and give you the best avenue to meet your users’ needs and accomplish your business goals. That can mean developing a simple MVP, a complex mobile app, a responsive mobile website, or a mix of both.
At Foonkie, we have a proven track record of developing both mobile apps and mobile websites. So, if we can help you make the right decision and make your idea a reality, then let’s talk! Our door is always open!